For Anjali Banga, an engineering student from Panjab University, what she misses the most about her university is the uninhibited access to public space that it gave to young women like her. “The fact that we could walk around anywhere on campus late into the night. Go to the library to study for hours until midnight, I don’t know if I will ever have access to such liberty again,” says Banga, who is now back home living with her joint family in the suburban town of Nangal in Punjab. “For women, staying in a small town like Nangal is like staying under a lockdown all your life,” Banga says.
Since the lockdown began, most students have lost out on quality education. In an academic sense, the transition to e-learning is not an easy one, with both students and teachers struggling to comprehend the digital medium, and yet others unable to access technology and fast internet. However, more than their classrooms, students from Panjab University, who are now back at their homes in different corners of the county, miss the vibrant, progressive and relatively liberal life that they were able to lead inside the PU campus.
Like Banga, Saloni Beniwal, a student of English Literature, claims she misses how she could freely roam around campus. “I miss the 24 into 7 access hours inside campus, being able to see your friends anytime. I also miss the private space my hostel room provided me. It was finally a space I could call my own,” says Beniwal who is currently living at home in Rohtak with her parents, both of whom are school teachers. “Not only do we miss out on vibrant campus life but we have been thrown back into our stressful home lives, where some of us have to deal with the financial burdens of our family and constantly help out in household chores,” says Beniwal, who is afraid of her parents losing their jobs at the private school where they teach. “There have been layoffs in my Dad’s school, so it is quite a tense time, hardly conducive to finishing assignments and reading pdfs on your phone,” Beniwal adds.
Indeed, home does not mean the same thing to all and does not guarantee the sense of safety and comfort that the word usually evokes.
“This time has only highlighted to socio-economic gap between all my classmates. Though a few lucky ones have the privilege and comfort to remain productive, others have to help put their parents financially and cannot even afford to think about online classes,” says Beniwal, referring to classmates who have been unable to access video conferences because of a lack of internet connection.
“I live in a joint family and I try my best to get some space to work, but it’s hard to accomplish,” says Ayush Sharma, a BSc student from Nangal, whose father deals in automobile parts. Sharma is engaged thoroughly in domestic chores these days, helping out his joint family members in gardening, cooking and other chores, which has left him with very less time to prepare for his own future. “I might have to take a year off now after completing my degree, and apply for entrance exams next year, since there is so much uncertainty about the future,” says Sharma, who is in his final year of his BSc degree.
Beyond missing out on academic goals, Sharma states that he misses being in a bigger city.
“I miss just hanging out in the markets, going to the Sukhna Lake late at night with my friends. I also just miss the conversations I had with different people, the perspective they shared,” says Sharma, adding that he craved to spend more time at the Student Centre — the hub of social activity at the university — which buzzed with conversations both profound and frivolous, loud protests and intimate whispers.
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